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NEW DELHI: Indian government demands social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, to remove all content referring to ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus disease has been called ‘unnecessary exercise’ and ‘illegal request By experts.

“This is completely wrong. There is no variant of COVID-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organization (WHO), ”India’s Ministry of Information and Technology said on Friday in a letter to social media companies. .

“The WHO has not associated the term ‘Indian variant’ with the B1617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports,” he added.

Officials from the IT ministry and Twitter were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Saturday, while Facebook, a popular social media platform, said it “would not do no comments ”on the review for the moment.

On May 11, WHO classified the B1617 variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India last year, as a “variant of global concern.”

A day later, the Indian government released a statement saying that media reports using the term “Indian variant” were unsubstantiated, claiming that the WHO had classified the variant as simply B1617.

Social media experts, however, said the government’s latest order on Friday was an “encroachment” on free speech.

“There is no law that allows the Indian government to demand this kind of censorship,” Nikhil Pahwa, founder of MediaNama, a mobile and digital news portal, told Arab News.

“I don’t think social media platforms should comply with an illegal request. There are legitimate press articles that use the term “Indian variant”, and this demand by the Indian government infringes on press freedom, “he added.

Pahwa described the directive as “a wasteful exercise and an attempt by India to exert Chinese-like control over its social media.”

“The term (Indian variant) is a familiar reference, not fake news,” he added.

Others felt that “identifying a pandemic with a country hurts”.

“The government is concerned about its image, perhaps excessively,” Sanjay Kapoor, editor-in-chief of the New Delhi-based English news magazine Hard News, told Arab News.

Kapoor said that “managing a health crisis is also controlling the narrative, and the government may believe that identifying the country with the virus could help its enemies.”

Around the world, variants of the coronavirus have been generically named by doctors and health experts based on the country where the strain was first identified.

This includes South Africa, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

However, health experts believe there should be a “consensus” between scientists and the media on the naming of the variants.

“If referring to the Indian variant is wrong, then the South African or British variant should be problematic as well,” Pawan Jesani, founder of the Forum for Medical Ethics Society and the Mumbai-based Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, told Mumbai. Arab News.

“They should come up with a neutral name. Otherwise, accept that it is an Indian bug. He was born here, his mutation took place here, that’s why his name is an Indian variant, ”he added.

Jesani urged the government “not to worry about the name” but to focus on “managing” the outbreak.

“It’s more important to manage the infection and find a way out. This is where the attention should be. “

Epidemiologist Dr T. Jacob John of Christian Medical College in the town of Vellore, southern India, said the government’s request reflected a “culture of shame” in which “you associate your honor in the name of sickness ”.

“In India, we think our honor is important, not our guilt,” John told Arab News.

“Anything that affects your honor and shames you will be hated. South Africa, the UK and Brazil did not oppose it because they are a culture of guilt and would be more worried about tackling the problem, ”he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faces severe criticism for its handling of the second wave of the pandemic, with thousands of lives lost due to a shortage of oxygen and hospital beds.

India recorded more than 257,000 infections and more than 4,000 deaths on Saturday.

However, media reports from parts of the country suggest the death toll is much higher than the official figure.

Scientists attribute the severity of the second wave to the variant of the B1617 coronavirus, popularly known as the “Indian variant”.

“It is a good idea to stick to the scientific nomenclature of variants, but at the same time, Indian authorities should also avoid using names related to countries in their statements or guidelines, such as variants of the UK, South Africa or Brazil, ”Dr. Anant Bhan, researcher and public health expert, told Arab News.

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